(Updated 10-13-23) Richland County Commissioners Vote To Lower Property Taxes
October 11, 2023 | View PDF
(Updated 10-13-23): Tim Tharp was incorrectly labeled as the Sidney School Superintendent. He is actually the Richland County Superintendent. The original story has been edited to reflect this change.
(Original Story): Tuesday, Oct 3, the three Richland County Commissioners made a risky vote that while being beneficial to landowners across the county, could get the county sued by the state. They voted to levy the 77.89 mills that the state told them was needed to run the state instead of the 95 mills counties across the state have been blindly levying for years.
State law established the 95 mills in 2001 to fund equality in education, because of a lawsuit against the state. There are 33 mills for elementary schools, 22 mills for high schools, and 40 mills for a state equalization levy that is to go to the State General Fund. The mills for the elementary and high schools are not allowed to be changed but every year the Department of Revenue is required to recalculate the levy authority for the equalization mills. According to Duane Mitchell, Richland County Commissioner, they had not been sharing the results of the recalculations with the counties. Back in June, Mike McGinley, Beaverhead County Commissioner noticed something that he felt did not add up and he started to bring it up in MACo, according to Shane Gorder, Richland County Commissioner. He said, "Mike started it, but that set off a light bulb. I realized I needed to educate myself and we started asking questions." On Aug. 28 the Richland County Commissioners sent a letter to join in the request for opinion that the Beaverhead commissioners had sent off Aug. 18. They had to send off the letter three more times before the Montana Department of Revenue responded. The response was that the amount of mills county commissioners had to levy was 77.89 but they still were expected to levy 95 mills. MACo refused to take a position on the issue so the leadership of each of the 56 counties in Montana had a choice to make. According to an article by Seaborn Larson published in the Independent Record, "The Gianforte administration on Monday, (Oct. 2) filed a District Court lawsuit to block Missoula County from cutting the school equalization tax collected on behalf of the state." Gorder said, "I believe that this was a overreach of state government to ask us to keep at 95 mills instead of what the number the Department of Revenue sent at 77.89."
Landowners in Richland County stand to benefit tremendously because of the commissioner's decision. The commissioners and even Dr. Tim Tharp, the elected Richland County Superintendent of Schools, checked into it and found either decision will not affect the schools. According to calculations based on the information the state sent out to the commissioners, Richland County landowners will be saved over $1 million, and land owners all across Montana would save over $8 million if every county levied the determined 77.89 mills. Tax mills are measured in tenths of a mill and any mills that are found to be smaller than a tenth are rounded up to the next tenth so the commissioners are going with 77.9 instead of the 77.89 the Department of Revenue prescribed but they are still doing their best to lower the property taxes for Richland County.